$ 54.00 (hardcover) ISBN 0-8077-2984-7
$ 23.95 (paperback) ISBN 0-8077-3983-9
In The Public Assault on America’s Children: Poverty, Violence and Juvenile Injustice, the editor and contributors discuss what a violent society against children has been gradually formed through the social policies and political discourses during the 1990s and what this means for children who grows up in such society. Several forms of violence against children– the violence of poverty and homelessness, the violence of environmentally induced childhood diseases, the news media and legislative criminalization of children, and the more and more incarceration of youth offenders or trouble makers – are marked in the book. By examining these violent factors and their implications, the book successfully delineates how the way a society treats people and its consequences could make a vicious circle, and what might be the key to stop it.
The book begins with the editor, Valerie Polakow’s introduction, “Savage Policies: Systemic Violence and the Lives of Children,” which points out how the “welfare reform” starting since 1996 has been deteriorating the lives of poor children. Polakow shows the dilemma a poor parent has after the reform that s/eh has to choose either a job with an incredible low wage below the poverty line (which cannot afford the basic living including the fair quality for child care) or the destiny of being kicked out from the list of welfare subsidy. Such poverty situation makes lots of children – most of them are minorities – marginalized by the whole society due to their deficient developmental environment, and finally, criminalized by the strict attitudes and treatments due to the policy such as Zero-Tolerance after their entering schools. These discussions give readers a simple but clear background for the issues in the following chapters. Polakow then ends the instruction with a description of organization of this book.
The main body of this book includes three parts. Part I, “Poverty, Violence, and the Lived Realities of Children” has four chapters. The contributors here give discussions of what ideologies and philosophies historically inherent in American society and underlying contemporary social policies and discourses regarding poverty, single mother and children make the
In chapter one, “A Crucible of Contradictions: Historical Roots of Violence Against Children in the United States,” the author Barbara Finkelstein discuss those “honored” religious, political, and socioeconomic traditions in the American society regarding the justice of individuals right and the role of a responsible mother have turned to the selfish beliefs of privatization and no necessity to give mothers with difficulties any help. Chapter two, “Poverty and Environmentally Induced Damage to Children,” continues to discuss the relation between poverty and environmentally induced damages which torture poor children’s lives. The author Sue Books points out that the public tends to attribute these children’s miserable destinies to their despicable poor parents who lack morality and are unwilling to take responsibility for the children. However, she argues that making these children to be exposed to those dangerous factors cannot be merely seen as an unfortunate and blamable “fact.” It is the inevitable consequence of the systemic violence within the society, and the unjust social policy of the welfare reform has been deteriorating such situation. In Chapter three,” Poverty and Youth Violence,” Vorrasi and Garbarino further uses the term “social toxin” to describe risk factors existing in the society which would impede children’s development. These factors include perceived economic inequality, exposure to family violence, participation in the illicit economy, and poverty, which the authors regard as the factor “reigns superior to most other individual risk factors with respect to having the ability to catalyze dysfunction.”
After discussing the damages due to physically environment, Chapter four, “Framing Children in the News: The Face and Color of Youth Crime in
Part II, “Schools, Violence, and Zero-Tolerance Policies,” focuses on how the previous discussed social environment and attitudes toward children influence the way schools treat students and its consequences. In chapter five, “America’s Least Wanted: Zero-Tolerance Policies and the Fate of Expelled Students,” Sasha Polakow-Suransky reveals the contradictory value between the old common-law doctrine of parens patriae (which provides the legal foundation for America’s public education system to all children) and the Zoro-Tolerance Policies (which punishes and expels students who bring anything “deemed” dangerous stuff to schools, without any alternative education). The author use statistics and a case study to reveal the difficult position students have after leaving schools. The data also shows that the expulsions of the minority students are disproportionate – the average American population was 39.8%, yet African American students accounted for 64% of the total expulsions. Treated like this, these minorities kids are not only exclude by the schools but by the whole society because it can’t be argued that education is the only way these children can reverse their inferior position in the social structure.
Another chapter in Part II, “Listen First: How student Perspectives on Violence Can Be Used to Create Safer Schools,” Pedro A. Noguera argues that increasing the security guards under the Zero-Tolerance policy which aims to expel violent or “potentially violent” students from schools won’t decrease the fear of other students, parents, and teachers. Because the feeling of safety within the schools or around the community people live needs to be built on human relationships regarding understanding, care and respect. Noguera’s research results suggest that schools appear less feelings of fear when children trusts adults who have the ability to solve problems and protect them actively rather than just move the trouble from schools passively and usually neglect some existing trouble that the children have to resolve for themselves.
The final Part III, “Juvenile Injustice” concludes this book by the discussions of the phenomenon that “more significantly, beneath the rarely occurring but dominant focus on youth homicides, normal youth behavior and misbehavior became further criminalized, all in the name of safety” in chapter seven, “Look out, Kid, It’s Something You Did: The Criminalization of Children” by Bernadine Dohrn. And, in chapter eight, “Throwaway Children: conditions of Confinement and Incarceration,” James Bell points out the confinement and incarceration inflicted on the students who are “demonized” in the
If you have seen the documentary “Bowling for Columbine” directed by Michael Moore (2002), the issues discussed in this book wouldn’t be unfamiliar to you because the aspects they reach and the main concern are very similar. However, I think the following two features make this book unique. First, the discussions in all chapters successfully keep children in readers’ mind – how they might suffer and what alternative treatments the society could give them. The depiction of poor families and children’s real lives at home, in schools, and institutions force the readers to see and think beyond the facts. Second, there was some valuable research and case studies done. The study of students’ perspectives on Violence in Chapter six is one good example. Such inquiry not only uncovers children’s view, which was seldom seriously valued and seen, but also provides evidence that the related policies need to be changed.
Who should read the book? If you are a teacher or at a position working with children in the